Apoptosis is the natural process of programmed cell death. It allows for the removal of unwanted cells from the body. Cancer is a result of the lack of or incorrect process of apoptosis as cells are able to grow unchecked and immune to defense cells.
Bak is a protein that is pertinent to the process of apoptosis. It is present in healthy cells in a dormant state. When the cell receives a signal, triggering apoptosis, Bak transforms into a killer protein.
Researchers Dr. Sweta Iyer, Dr. Ruth Kluck, along with colleagues, published their findings in the journal Nature Communications explaining the discovery of a process to directly activate the Bak protein.
The Bak protein could be activated through the binding of an antibody. Researchers were able to produce such an antibody. The discovery of this antibody was unintentional and unexpected.
The discovery of this protein will be helpful in the development of other drugs to promote cell death.
Researchers analyzed Bak’s three-dimensional structure to determine exactly how the antibody activated Bak. Bak is primarily activated by a specific class of proteins called BH3-only proteins; however the antibody discovered is not a part of this class. The BH3-only proteins bind to a specific groove on Bak, while the antibody binds to a different area, yet both trigger the activation of the Bak protein.
There is a characteristic of this antibody that proves particularly useful to the creation of a cancer drug. Survival proteins alter the drug’s effect on the tumor and allow it to become drug resistant but this particular antibody cannot be neutralized by these proteins.